Defense spending bill would boost Tennessee programs

By Kathy Helms-Hughes

STAR STAFF
khughes@starhq.com

   High-tech initiatives under development by two companies in Oak Ridge could get a boost if the 2003 Defense Appropriations Bill makes its way through Congress.
   Third District Congressman Zach Wamp, who has served on the House Appropriations Committee since 1997, said yesterday the committee met late Monday night to vote on the bill which includes $5 million for SensorNet, an Oak Ridge National Laboratory program.
   Under the program, real-time detection and assessment systems produced by SensorNet would be placed on existing cellular towers and would be able to detect a chemical agent within 45 seconds and a biological threat within five minutes, then quickly alert authorities.
   Wamp said the war on terrorism not only means equipping U.S. troops abroad. "Unfortunately, we now must be very vigilant in protecting our homeland, and many of these high-tech detection systems that are developed in East Tennessee have an important role to play," he said.
   The Defense bill also includes $28.9 million for research and development of robotics systems made by REMOTEC of Oak Ridge as part of the Joint Robotics Program.
   By further developing robotic systems that can perform such tasks as disabling a bomb through remote control, the lives of many law enforcement officers in the homeland or soldiers in the field can be saved, according to Wamp. The robots currently are being used in portions of the United States, Israel and the United Kingdom.
   Wamp called the robotics technology "fascinating." "Most folks had no idea that this life-saving technology was being produced right here in East Tennessee," he said.
   The $354.7 billion Defense bill provides $33.8 billion more than the 2002 bill for defense-related programs and resources to fight the war on terrorism.
   The Defense spending bill also earmarks funds for other Tennessee projects, including a $1 million increase for the Tennessee National Guard's Appalachian High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area fund, aimed at helping the Guard eradicate marijuana growing and usage in the state.
   The full House is expected to vote on the spending bill later this week.